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Balaam continueth to foretel the prosperity of Israel, and the downfall of their enemies: he is dismissed by Balak in disgrace.
Before Christ 1452.
This chapter is very ill divided from the last: it should certainly begin at the 27th verse of the preceding one.
Numbers 24:1. To seek for enchantments— In the margin, to the meeting of enchantments; by which is meant the same as he calls, meeting the Lord, in the 3rd and 15th verses of the last chapter. It is difficult to understand what is meant by these words. "Interpreters," says Mr. Saurin, "think they have found some passages in Scripture, where the verb, from which the word enchantment is derived, is taken in a good sense, and denotes the knowledge of futurity. See Genesis 5:15. They conclude from this criticism, that the word enchantment signifies no more than the revelations which Balaam desired of God concerning the destiny of the Israelites. It is certain, that the sacred historian says nothing throughout his whole narration, capable of convincing us that Balaam used enchantments on the first of the two high places: I am apt to suspect that this man, abandoned to covetousness; not being able to find any thing to his purpose in the divine inspirations, would at length have betaken himself to magical arts; but that the spirit of God restrained him." Mr. Saurin here seems not to have attended with his usual accuracy to the text; from which it is plain, that Balaam only omitted to do now, what he had done before; for it is said, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments; so that whatever the phrase may imply, it is unquestionable, that he had done, at his two former meetings with the Lord, what he now omitted to do, from a full persuasion that any further inquiries into the will of the Lord upon this subject would be fruitless: and I am very strongly of opinion, that the phrase implies no more, than the meeting the Lord for information as to his will; and, perhaps, it might not improperly be rendered, He went not as before, for the meeting, or obtaining divinations: i.e. for information into future things from the Lord; for which purpose he retired, as we have observed on ch. Numbers 23:3. Houbigant is of the same opinion; who says, that the word נחשׁים nechashim, auguries, is here understood in a good sense; for Balaam interpreted the will of the true God, not of the God of Moab, from these auguries. The meaning of the passage seems no more than this; that Balaam, convinced that it was perfectly in vain to retire any more, after the sacrifices, to meet God and receive his commands, accordingly no more retired to the high and secret place, but without any ceremony delivered the divine oracles. Le Clerc explains it briefly thus: He judged it superfluous to inquire further into the mind of God, as God had sufficiently declared his purpose to bless the Israelites.
He set his face toward the wilderness— We have had occasion more than once before to observe, that any large and extensive champaign country, even though it may happen to have villages in it, is called in the Scripture, wilderness. It is evident from the 2nd verse, that wilderness here means the plains of Moab, where the Israelites lay encamped, ch. Numbers 22:1.
Numbers 24:2. The spirit of God came upon him— That is, a prophetic influence from God, whereby his mind was inspired to see and foretel future events. Philo and others consider Balaam as merely passive in this affair, and that God moved his organs much in the same manner as he did those of the ass: but the state of his mind may, perhaps, be better understood, by saying in Homer's phrase, that he uttered these predictions, εκων αεκοντι δε θυμω ; i.e. he was a voluntary agent, but overruled to speak contrary to his inclinations; for he would gladly have gratified Balak in cursing the Israelites, but he could not, or durst not, counteract the divine authority, which enjoined him to bless them. Neither is it any just exception against Balaam's being a true prophet, that he was a bad man: Saul was among the prophets. See the First Principle on Num 24:5 of chap. 22: The completion of his prophecies removes all objections that might arise from his character.
Numbers 24:3. Balaam, the son of Beor, hath said— There seems to be no reason for understanding this introduction, with Bishop Patrick, as a proof of Balaam's vanity; since it is agreeable to the ordinary style of all the prophets. See Isaiah 1:1.Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 1:1.Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 1:3. The next clause, The man whose eyes are open, should rather be, whose eyes are opened; which agrees exactly with the version of the Vulgate, approved by Le Clerc and Calmet; the man whose eyes were shut, formerly shut, but now opened; referring either to that part of the history, wherein we are told, that though the ass saw the angel, Balaam saw him not, till the Lord opened his eyes; or to that more sublime intelligence wherewith God had now enlightened his understanding; the man whose eyes are opened to the wonderful knowledge of future things, through God's spirit. The 1st verse shews that his mind was thus illuminated: there Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord, &c.; and in the 4th verse we are told to what his eyes were opened: he saw this vision of the Almighty.
Numbers 24:4. Falling into a trance— There is nothing in the original for into a trance; which our translators have added, supposing him to have been in a rapture or ecstacy when he had this vision, because it is added, having his eyes open; that is, his mind being possessed of a clear apprehension of things, which God revealed to him when his senses were locked up: but Le Clerc takes this expression, as well as the former, to have a reference to what beset him by the way; when, having his eyes open to see the angel, he bowed his head, and fell flat on his face. What would lead one to prefer this explanation, is, that it does not appear that Balaam fell into any trance or ecstacy when he delivered the prophecies in this or the foregoing chapter. It is true, he declares himself to have been no more than a passive instrument in the hands of the Lord. See the Sixth Principle on ch. 22: Balak and his courtiers might easily perceive this by his manner of acting and speaking, so like what we read was usual, not only with the true prophets among the Jews, as well as the pretended ones who had apostatised to the worship of Baal, both which had the character of madmen given them; (see 1 Samuel 19:23. 1Ki 18:28. 2 Kings 9:11; 2 Kings 9:37.) but was also believed to be the case of the heathen pythonesses, and other oracle-mongers. But the most convincing argument, to them, was his acting a part so contrary to his interest and inclination, and the extreme mortification and displeasure we may reasonably suppose him to have shewn at his disappointment; from all which, Balak, his princes, and allies, might be thoroughly satisfied that their designs against Israel were defeated by a divine and irresistible power, and that all their future attempts would meet with no better, if not worse success than the former had done. However, the divine providence took special care to convince, not only them, but future ages, of Balaam's prophetic commission, before he left the Moabitish Court; for he had no sooner, in some measure, appeased the King's anger, (Numbers 24:12, &c.) than he felt himself seized with a fresh prophetic impulse; and, having gained the attention of the whole assembly, began to extend his predictions on sundry kingdoms and people, and to display their various fates by sea and land, in so plain a manner, that however slight an impression they might make on those who then heard them, yet, by their timely accomplishment afterwards, they sufficiently declared that they all flowed from the same divine original; as will abundantly appear in the course of our notes on the present chapter. See Psalmanazar's Essays. It may be proper just to observe, that a learned writer of our own understands the occurrence of the ass and the angel, &c. in this part of the sacred story, as a vision. See Dr. Jortin's Dissertations, p. 186. And to the arguments which he uses in defence of his opinion, it may perhaps be thought by some, that the present verse affords an additional one.
Numbers 24:6. As the valleys, &c.— Struck with the beauty and regularity of the Israelitish camp, Balaam elegantly compares them to spacious vallies, stretching out to a great length; and to beautiful gardens laid out along the banks of a river, and adorned with rows of stately trees. "The expression of Balaam," says the celebrated Scheuchzer, "will appear natural to those, who have ever seen a fine extent of country from the top of a mountain. The prophet, from the summit of mount Peor, beheld the whole camp of the Israelites, arranged according to the disposition which had been made of them by the command of God himself, and separated into what might be called streets. He discovered, as in perspective, the tribes in general, and each one in particular, disposed in the most beautiful order; and he very justly compares the spectacle to those rivers which spread themselves through a province, and have gardens upon their banks: a plan not only useful and pleasant, but even sometimes necessary. Hence, it happens, that in the hottest countries of Europe, and even in those which are temperate, we see along the sides of lakes and rivers an agreeable scene of gardens, vineyards, verdant meadows, nay, and often fine houses, which are usually inhabited in the summer-time, in order to the being less incommoded by the heat. In these sweet spots the water continually sprinkles the plants, and you always breathe a refreshing air. If we transport ourselves in idea into the Asiatic regions, we shall see that this situation becomes more necessary, in proportion as we advance towards the equator. The road which Balaam had taken along the Euphrates was, doubtless, one of these fine long chains of gardens, such as that which one sees betwixt Padua and Venice." The expression, as the vallies are they spread forth, may be rendered, as streams of water are they extended. We have before observed, that the original word נחל nachal, is used both for a valley, and a stream; (see chap. Numbers 13:23.) but the context clearly gives the preference to vallies. Houbigant, in order to keep up what he justly calls the correspondence of the sentences, renders it after the Samaritan, Such are the shady vallies; such the gardens by the river side; such the trees, &c. Balaam, says he, compares the camp of Israel to pleasant vallies and delightful groves, an appearance of which the orderly disposition of the tents exhibited.
As the trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted— There were two sorts of aloes; one an odoriferous tree growing in India and Arabia, called by Pliny Ξυλαλοης, the lign, or wood-aloes: this is that which is often joined with myrrh in Scripture; as it was of a fragrant smell, and, as Calmet has observed, frequently used in the East as a perfume. The other is a purgative plant. Parkhurst says, the אהלים ahalim, are trees or plants of the aromatic kind, so called from their wide shadowing branches or leaves for אהל ohel signifies a tent. See Proverbs 7:17. Song of Solomon 4:14. Which the Lord hath planted, means only which grew of themselves; without culture, without art, solo Dei nutu, as Bochart expresses it: so Psalms 104:16. The cedars of Lebanon are said to be planted by God, because they grew there most stately, without the art of man; nullis hominum cogentibus, as Virgil speaks; see Georg. 2: Numbers 24:10. These, in common speech, we call the productions of nature; but what we vulgarly ascribe to nature, the Scripture language, with more truth and propriety, ascribes to God; for the productions of nature are nothing else than the effects of the Divine power and energy, operating either immediately, or by the mediation of inferior agents, in a certain uniform order which he himself has established. With respect to the cedars, every one knows the esteem in which they were held by the ancients, as well for their fragrancy, as on other accounts. Salmasius assures us, that the Greeks always made it a point to burn this wood upon their altars. All these metaphors Balaam makes use of to celebrate the present and future prosperity of the Israelites: a prosperity, the same of which was about to spread itself among all the neighbouring nations, as the perfume of these odoriferous plants is everywhere disseminated by the winds.
Numbers 24:7. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, &c.— Very different are the interpretations given to this obscure passage. 1. The LXX render the Hebrew widely different from our translation; a man shall come out of his seed, and shall rule over many nations; which also is the translation of Onkelos, and the Targum of Jerusalem, though the latter is somewhat more particular; a king shall proceed from their sons; their Redeemer shall come from among them, and the reign of the king-Messiah shall be greatly exalted. St. Cyprian follows exactly the version of the LXX, in quoting this passage against the Jews, lib. 2: cap. 10 and the learned Bishop Fell, in a note upon the place, has shewn, that the Greek interpreters rendered it thus, because in the language of the Hebrews they speak proverbially of water which distills from a bucket, for a man who is born, or who issues from his father: he adds, that זרע zerang, signifying equally posterity, and the arm of power, the LXX have taken the word in the latter sense, as an emblem of empire over many people: in the same manner as God says, (speaking to David,) I will set his hand in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers, to mark the extent of his power. This conjecture must at least be granted to be ingenious. 2. Houbigant says that the Hebrew, literally rendered, is aquas prorumpere faciet ex precordiis suis, (Israel) He shall make waters to flow from his bowels, דל dal, in the Persian language is, says he, the inward part of a thing, the heart, the bowels; which signification we have therefore chosen, because our Lord Christ referred to this place, when he said, he that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. John 7:38. For unless you interpret it in this manner, there is no place in the sacred volume which speaks of water flowing from the belly. Balaam speaks in this place metaphorically, as becomes him who had taken up his parable: but waters, thus used, it appears from St. Paul, signified the doctrine with which one is imbued. See 1 Corinthians 3:6. This was fixed among the Jews before the apostle's time, as appears from the baptism of John, and from others of the like kind used before John; for if any one was sprinkled with the water of baptism, he professed thereby to embrace that doctrine and form of manners, into which he was instituted by him who baptized him. This interpretation of our's agrees well with what follows; and his seed in many waters: that is, his seeds or plants shall be well watered. So that, according to Houbigant, the meaning is, "he shall be well instructed in true doctrine himself, and plentifully afford that instruction to his posterity." 3. Those who may think the foregoing interpretations too much forced, will read the passage according to its most literal translation, thus, waters shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be by many waters; which seems to be a metaphorical expression for the great increase of Israel; for increase of posterity is represented in Scripture by the flowing out of waters. Isaiah 48:1.Proverbs 5:15-18; Proverbs 5:15-18 a passage which seems clearly to explain this: many waters are put for many people, Jeremiah 47:2. Rev 17:15 and Isa 32:20 the expression seems well to explain the latter clause, his seed shall be, &c. It may be proper just to observe, that Le Clerc would render it, from his boughs the waters shall distill; and he understands the passage as expressive of the plenty and fertility of the country which the Hebrews should possess. See Ezekiel 17:23. Dr. Lowth, in his elegant version, understands the passage in this last sense.
Illi uda multo rore stillant germina, Faetusque alunt juges aquae.
His king shall be higher than Agag— Most commentators suppose that Agag was a common name of all the kings of the Amalekites, as Pharaoh was of Egypt, &c. and as the Amalekites at this time were the most flourishing and formidable people of the East, it is supposed that Balaam foretels in these words, that the king of Israel should be the greatest of kings; for he knew none greater than Agag. Some think that they have a particular respect to Saul the first king of Israel, who subdued the Amalekites, and took Agag captive. The Jews themselves, however, think the passage has its full completion in the Messiah. The LXX, Samar. Onkelos, Syr. Arab. Aquila, Symmachus, and many fathers of the church, to whom we may add Houbigant, read the passage differently; his king shall be greater than Gog. Now Gog, in the Scripture, means the Scythians, and other northern nations. See Ezek. chapters 38: and 39: and Mede's Works, p. 574. Many learned men prefer this reading to the other, meaning by Gog the enemies of the church in general. It was easy to confound the Hebrew מגוג magog, with מאגג meagag, says Mr. Samuel Wesley, Dissert. on Job; and so to read Agag instead of Gog; and if so, may we not as well suppose, that the reading was changed from מהגג mehagog, which may signify above the top, or above all height; for גג gag signifies locus sublimis, the top of any thing, the roof of a house; and is frequently so used in Scripture. See Calasio's Concordance on the word. And then the meaning of the passage will be, his king shall be exalted above all height; i.e. super-eminently, and above all kings; to which the correspondent clause is, and his kingdom shall be exalted; shall be raised to the highest dignity and glory; in which, most probably, there is a reference to the Messiah and his kingdom.
Numbers 24:8. God brought him forth out of Egypt— The meaning of which both here and in chap. Num 23:22 is, That as it was God, their guide and king, who with a strong arm brought them forth out of Egypt; so that same God will make them victorious over all their enemies; and, consequently, all opposition is in vain. As a proof of which, the prophet adds, he, i.e. Israel, hath, i.e. from God, as it were, the strength of an unicorn. That there is no such animal as the unicorn, vulgarly understood, is on all hands agreed. The question therefore is, what animal is meant by the original word ראם reem? There are two opinions, 1st, that of Bochart, who thinks that an eastern animal, of the stag or deer kind, is meant, remarkable for his height, [see Psalms 92:10.] strength, and fierceness; see Bochart, vol. 2: p. 949. 2nd, Others, of which number particularly is the learned Scheuchzer, suppose the rhinoceros to be meant. See Scheuch. Phys. Sacr. vol. 4. Bochart's opinion seems the most probable, (as we may collect from Deuteronomy 33:17.) that no one-horned animal can be meant; for it is there said of Joseph, his horns are the horns of a ראם reem; with them he shall push the people to the ends of the earth; and they (that is, these two horns) are the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh, i.e. the two tribes which sprung from Joseph. See Parkhurst's Lexicon: who says that רים rim, which occurs, Job 39:9-10 and plural רמים ramim, Psa 22:21 in his opinion, denote the same kind of animal as ראם reem, or are only other names for the Oryx. So that, according to this interpretation, Balaam foretels that, as the ראם reem or oryx, exceeds other goats in eminence and size, so Israel should surpass in glory the other neighbouring nations, and rule over them by his strength and power. The word which we may render strength תועפת toapat, rendered by the interlineary version indefatigationes, and by Le Clerc altitudines, the heights, may, perhaps, more properly signify quick and indefatigable motions; and if so, it is with great propriety applied to the oryx, as well as to the quick and sudden conquest of the children of Israel. We should, however, just observe, that there is a species of the rhinoceros with two horns, which is a native of Africa, and is very frequently found at the Cape of Good Hope.
He shall eat up the nations his enemies— If this refers to the animal just mentioned, it will be a strong argument for interpreting it of the rhinoceros, since the particulars here expressed can by no means be applied to any thing of the goat or deer kind. If, however, ראם reem be understood to mean the oryx, we must understand Balaam as referring to the lion, whereof he speaks in the next verse, and pierce them with his arrows, which entirely destroys the metaphor. The Hebrew literally is, and his transfixings shall transfix, ימוחצ וחציו vechitzaiv yimchatz; by which, I apprehend, no more is meant, than that he shall deeply pierce and wound his enemies; and, if we understand it of the rhinoceros, we may very properly translate it, and deeply wound them with his horns; for every naturalist informs us what terrible havock the rhinoceros makes with his horn, or horns, in combat with other beasts.
Numbers 24:9. He couched, he lay down as a lion— This verse, as well as the 24th of the former chapter, refers to the entire victory which the Israelites should obtain over their enemies, and to their perfect and quiet possession of the land of Canaan. Naturalists inform us, that the lion never retires into any private place to sleep; but, confident in his own courage, sleeps all the night in an open place, as if he knew that nobody durst attack him while he slept. See Scheuchzer, vol. 4: p. 31. "These passages," says Bishop Newton, "are a manifest prophecy of the victory which the Israelites should gain over their enemies, and particularly the Canaanites, and of their secure possession and quiet enjoyment of the land afterwards, and particularly in the reigns of David and Solomon." It is remarkable too, that God hath here put into the mouth of Balaam much the same things which Jacob had before predicted of Judah, Gen 49:9 and Isaac had predicted of Jacob, Genesis 27:29. Such analogy and harmony is there between the prophesies of Scripture.
REFLECTIONS.—Convinced now how vain were his enchantments, Balaam retires no more to ask counsel, but sets his face toward the camp of Israel, and the spirit of prophesy comes upon him. 1. He prefaces his parable with a declaration of the visions that he was favoured with, and the distinctness of his views of the events that he predicted. Poor subject of boasting! while his heart remained unchanged, his knowledge rendered him but the more guilty. Note; It is not light in the understanding, but grace in the heart, that is the truly valuable blessing. 2. He admires the beauty of Israel's host, and their regularity and order; spacious as the valleys, pleasing to look upon as a blooming garden, fragrant as the smell of aloes, and strong as the cedar. The church of God, in this valley of humiliation, is inclosed like a garden from the world around it, watered with the rivers of divine love, adorned with graces more fragrant than spices: and every believer is a tree of righteousness planted of God, more flourishing than the cedar of Libanus. 3. He foretels the plenty, honour, and conquer which God would give them from heaven: his rain shall water their furrows; their kings shall eclipse the glory of the most renowned monarchs; and their people, strong as the unicorn, shall push their enemies the Canaanites, as they have done the Egyptians, till they have destroyed them, and dwell in peaceful security; none daring to disturb them in their possessions, any more than to rouse the slumbering lion. Note; Great is the glory of God's spiritual Israel, every faithful believer shall be a king upon his throne, and receive a kingdom not only higher than Agag's but also eternal in the heavens.
Numbers 24:11. The Lord hath kept thee back from honour— Pyle has paraphrased this very well: "The God you seem to be so great withal has deprived you of the best post in my court, for the service you have done him:" for it is not to be imagined that Balak would have been in this passion with Balaam, had he really believed that he acted under the influence of the Supreme God, Creator and Sovereign of the universe; he probably considered Jehovah only as a national God, according to the prevailing opinion of those times. So that certainly we should rather read, Jehovah hath kept thee back from honour; which carries a vile insinuation, that he had acted in concert with the Israelites, and been more careful to please their God Jehovah, than Baal-peor, and the other gods of the Moabites.
Numbers 24:14. Come, therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people, &c.— Here, say the generality of commentators, Balaam most probably gave to Balak the infamous counsel mentioned, chap. Num 31:16 and accordingly some of the paraphrases here insert that counsel; and the Vulgate so understands the passage, dabo consilium tibi quid populus tuus faciat huic populo, extremo tempore; i.e. I will counsel thee what thy people may do to this people as their last resource. That Balaam was indeed the author of that wicked counsel is unquestionable, from comparing chap. Num 31:16 with Revelation 2:14. But how it should come into the head of any man to conceive that it was now given, I cannot apprehend. The words of Balaam, and his present circumstances, are both clearly against such a supposition. The king, highly dissatisfied with him, orders him in great wrath to depart; therefore now flee thou to thy place, Numbers 24:11. The prophet, full of the divine spirit, and unable to resist its impetus, acts a part the most contrary to his interest, and utters such prophesies as were calculated still more to enrage the already incensed monarch, whom he tells, that, being now about to depart to his people, he would inform him, by his prophetic skill, what this people of Israel (whom he was called to curse, but whom, the Lord compelling him, he was obliged to bless) should do to his people in the latter days; i.e. what, in future times, should be the fate of the Moabitish and other nations from the Israelites; and accordingly we find that his succeeding prophesies all refer to this particular.
Numbers 24:17. I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh:— For the exposition of the following verses, we are indebted to the excellent dissertations of the learned bishop of Bristol.
"I shall see, &c. rather, I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; the future tense in the Hebrew being often used for the present. He saw with the eyes of prophesy, and prophets are emphatically styled seers. There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel. The star, and the sceptre, are probably metaphors borrowed from the ancient hieroglyphics, which much influenced the language of the East; and they evidently denote some eminent and illustrious king or ruler, whom he particularizes in the following words: And shall smite the corners of Moab, or princes of Moab, according to other versions. This was executed by David; for he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive; that is, he destroyed two thirds, and saved one third alive: and the Moabites became David's servants, and brought gifts. See 2 Samuel 8:2."
"And destroy all the children of Sheth— If by Sheth was meant the son of Adam, then all the children of Sheth are all mankind; the posterity of Cain, and Adam's other sons, having all perished in the deluge. But it is very harsh to say, that any king of Israel would destroy all mankind; and therefore the Syriac and Chaldee soften it, that he shall subdue all the sons of Sheth, and rule over all the sons of men. The word occurs only in this place, and in Isa 22:5 where it is used in the sense of breaking down, or destroying; and as particular places are mentioned, both before and after, so it is reasonable to conclude, that not all mankind in general, but some particular persons, were intended by the sons of Sheth. The Jerusalem Targum translates it, the sons of the East, the Moabites lying east of Judea. Rabbi Nathan says, that Sheth is the name of a city on the borders of Moab. Grotius imagines Sheth to be the name of some famous king among the Moabites. Poole says, that Sheth seems to be the name of some place or prince in Moab, eminent at that time, though now unknown. Vitringa, in his commentary upon Isaiah, conceives that the Idumeans were intended, the word Sheth signifying a foundation, or fortified place; because they trusted greatly in their castles and fortifications. But the Idumeans are mentioned afterwards, and it is probable, that as two hemistichs relate to them, two also relate to the Moabites; and the reason of the appellation assigned by Vitringa is as proper to the Moabites as to the Idumeans. It is common in the stile of the Hebrews; and especially in the poetic parts of Scripture; and we may observe it particularly in these prophesies of Balaam, that the same thing, in effect, is repeated in other words, and the latter member of each period is exegetical of the former, as in the passage before us: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh.—There shall come a star out of Jacob; and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.—And again in the next verse: and Edom shall be a possession; Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies. There is great reason, therefore, to think, that the same manner of speaking was continued here; and consequently that Sheth must be the name of some eminent place or person among the Moabites."
"Ver. 18. Edom shall be a possession, &c.— This was also fulfilled by David; see 2Sa 8:14 who himself, in two of his Psalms 60:8; Psa 108:9 has mentioned together his conquest of Moab and Edom, as they are also joined together in this prophecy. Seir is the name of the mountains of Edom; so that even their mountains and fastnesses could not defend the Idumeans from David and his captains."
"And Israel shall do valiantly— As they did particularly under the command of David, several of whose victories are recorded; 2 Samuel 8:0 together with his conquest of Moab and Edom."
"Ver. 19. And shall destroy him that remaineth of the city— Not only defeat them in the field, but destroy them even in their strongest cities; or, perhaps, some particular city was intended, as we may infer from Psalms 60:8; Psalms 108:10. We read particularly, that Joab, David's general, smote every male in Edom; 1 Kings 11:15-16."
"We see how exactly this prophesy has been fulfilled in the person and actions of David; but most Jewish as well as Christian writers apply it primarily, perhaps, to David, but ultimately to the Messiah, as the person chiefly intended, in whom it was to receive its full and entire completion. Onkelos interprets it of the Messiah. 'When a prince,' says he, 'shall arise f the house of Jacob, and Christ shall be anointed of the house of Israel, he shall both slay the princes of Moab, and rule over the sons of men;' and with him agree the other Targums. Maimonides understands it partly of David, and partly of the Messiah; and with him agree other rabbis.—It appears to have been generally understood by the Jews as a prophesy of the Messiah, because the false Christ, who appeared in the reign of the Roman emperor Adrian, assumed the title of Barchochebas, or Son of the Star; in allusion to this prophesy, and in order to have it believed that he was the star whom Balaam had seen afar off. The Christian fathers seem unanimous in applying this prophesy to our Saviour, and to the star which appeared at his nativity. Origen, in particular, produces it as one of the plainest and clearest prophesies of the Messiah; and both he and Eusebius affirm, that it was in consequence of Balaam's prophesies, which were known and believed in the East, that the magi, upon the appearance of a new star, came to Jerusalem, to worship him who was born king of the Jews. Most divines and commentators apply the prophesy principally to our Saviour; and by Moab and Edom they understand the enemies and persecutors of the church. It must be acknowledged, that many prophesies of Scripture have a double meaning, literal and mystical, respect two events, and receive a twofold completion. David was, in several things, a type and figure of the Messiah. If by destroying all the children of Sheth be meant, ruling over all mankind, this was never fulfilled in David. A star did really appear at our Saviour's nativity, and in Scripture he is stiled the Day Star, 2Pe 1:19 the Morning Star, Revelation 2:28; Rev 22:16 the Bright and Morning Star; perhaps in allusion to this very prophesy. Bishop Warburton assigns a further reason: speaking of the two sorts of metaphor in the ancient use of it, the popular and common, and the hidden and mysterious, he says, 'The prophetic writings are full of this latter sort: to instance only in the famous prediction of Balaam, There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.' This prophesy may, possibly, in some sense, relate to David; but, without question, it belongs principally to Christ. Here the metaphor of a sceptre was common and popular to denote a ruler, like David, but the star, though, like the other, it signified in the prophetic writings a temporal prince or ruler, yet had a secret and hidden meaning likewise. A star, in the Egyptian hieroglyphics, denoted God; and how much hieroglyphic writing influenced the Eastern languages we shall see presently. Thus God, in the prophet Amos, ch. Num 5:25-26 reproving the Israelites for their idolatry on their first coming out of Egypt, says, Ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun, your images, the star of your God, which ye made to yourselves. The star of your God is a sublime figure, to signify, the image of your God; for a star being employed in the hieroglyphics to signify God, it is used here, with great elegance, to signify the material image of a God: the words, the star of your God, being only a repetition, so usual in the Hebrew tongue, of the preceding Chiun, your images; and not, as some critics suppose, the same with your God Star, sidus Deum vestrum. Hence we conclude, that the metaphor here used by Balaam of a star was of that abstruse mysterious kind, and so to be understood; and, consequently, that it related only to Christ, the eternal Son of God. But though, for these reasons, the Messiah might be remotely intended, yet we cannot allow that he was intended solely; because David might be called a star by Balaam, as other rulers and governors are by Dan 8:10 and by St. John, Rev 1:20 and we must insist upon it, that the summary intention, the literal meaning of the prophesy, respects the person and actions of David; and for this, particularly, because Balaam is here advertising Balak what the Israelites should do to the Moabites hereafter."
"Ver. 20. He looked on Amalek, &c.— From the Moabites he turned his eyes more to the south and west, and looked on their neighbours the Amalekites; Amalek, says he, was the first of the nations; the first and most powerful of the neighbouring nations, or the first that warred against Israel, as it is in the margin of our Bibles. 'The latter interpretation is proposed by Onkelos, and other Jews, I suppose, because they would not allow the Amalekites to be a more ancient nation than themselves; but most good critics prefer the former interpretation, as more easy and natural; and for a very good reason, because the Amalekites appear to have been a very ancient nation: they are reckoned among the most ancient nations thereabouts. See 1 Samuel 22:8. They are mentioned so early as in the wars of Chedorlaomer, Gen 14:7 so that they must have been a nation before the times of Abraham and Lot, and consequently much older than the Moabites, or Edomites, or any of the nations descended from those patriarchs. And this is a demonstrative argument, that the Amalekites did not descend from Amalek, the son of Eliphaz, and grandson of Esau, as many have supposed only from the similitude of names, (Genesis 36:12.) but sprung from some other stock; and probably, as the Arabian writers affirm, from Amalek, or Amlak, the son of Ham, and grandson of Noah. 'Amlak et Amlik, fils de Cham, fils de Noe. C'est celui que les Hebreux appellent Amalek, pere des Amalekites,' says Herbelot; but it is to be wished that this valuable and useful author had cited his authorities. According to the Arabian historians, they were a great and powerful nation that subdued Egypt, and held it in subjection for several years. See Univ. Hist. b. 1. c. iii. p. 281.—They must certainly have been more powerful, or at least more courageous, than the neighbouring nations, because they ventured to attack the Israelites, of whom the other nations were afraid. But though they were the first, the most ancient, and powerful of the neighbouring nations, yet, says the prophet, their latter end shall be that they perish for ever. Here Balaam unwittingly confirms what the Lord had before denounced by Moses. Exodus 17:14. Balaam had before declared, that the king of Israel should prevail over the king of Amalek; Num 24:7 but here the menace is carried further, and Amalek is consigned to utter destruction. This sentence was, in a great measure, executed by Saul, 1 Samuel 15:7-8. When they had recovered a little, David invaded them again, 1Sa 27:8-9 and made a further slaughter and conquest of them at Ziklag, 1 Samuel 30:0. At last the sons of Simeon, in the days of king Hezekiah, smote the rest of the Amalekites that were escaped, and dwelt in their habitations, 1 Chronicles 4:41-43. And where is the name or the nation of Amalek subsisting at this day? What history, what tradition concerning them, is remaining any where?
They are but just enough known and remembered to shew, that what God had threatened he has punctually fulfilled."
"Ver. 21. He looked on the Kenites, &c.— Commentators are much at a loss to say, with any certainty, who these Kenites were. There are Kenites mentioned, Gen 15:19 among the Canaanitish nations; and Le Clerc imagines, that they were the people here intended: but the Canaanitish nations are not the subject of Balaam's prophesies, and the Canaanitish nations were to be rooted out; but these Kenites were to continue as long as the Israelites themselves, and to be carried captive with them by the Assyrians. Bochart is of opinion, that those Kenites, as well as the Kenizzites, not being mentioned by Joshua in the division of the land, were extinct in the interval between Abraham and Moses. The most probable account of these Kenites, I conceive, to be this. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is called in Exo 3:1 the priest of Midian; and in Jdg 1:16 the Kenite. We may infer, therefore, that the Midianites and the Kenites were the same, or, at least, that the Kenites were some of the tribes of Midian. Now of the Kenites, it appears from Jdg 1:16 that part followed Israel; but the greater part, we may presume, remained among the Midianites and Amalekites. We read, 1Sa 15:6 that there were Kenites dwelling among the Amalekites, and so the Kenites are fitly mentioned here next after the Amalekites. Their situation is said to be strong and secure among the mountains. Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock; wherein is an allusion to the name, the same word in Hebrew signifying a nest and a Kenite, Nevertheless, the Kenite shall be wasted until Ashur carry thee away captive. The Amalekites were to be utterly destroyed, but the Kenites were to be carried captive. And, accordingly, when Saul was sent by divine commission to destroy the Amalekites, he ordered the Kenites to depart from among them; for the kindness which some of them shewed to Israel, their posterity was saved, 1 Samuel 15:6. This passage shews that they were wasted, and reduced to a low and weak condition: and as the kings of Assyria carried captive not only the Jews, but also the Syrians, and several other nations, 2Ki 16:9; 2Ki 19:12-13 it is most highly probable, that the Kenites shared the same fate with their neighbours, and were carried away by the same torrent; and, especially, as we find some Kenites mentioned among the Jews after their return from captivity, 1 Chronicles 2:55."
"Ver. 23. He took up his parable, and said, &c.— This verse is by several commentators referred to what precedes, but it relates rather to what follows: He took up his parable, is a preface used when he enters upon some new subject. The exclamation, Alas, who shall live when God doth this! implies, that he is now prophesying of very distant and very calamitous times."
"Ver. 24. And ships— Or rather, for ships, as the particle vau often signifies for. Chittim was one of the sons of Javan, who was one of the sons of Japheth, by whose posterity the isles of the Gentiles, i.e. Europe, were divided and peopled; together with the countries to which the Asiatics passed by sea; for such the Hebrews call islands, Genesis 10:5. Chittim is used for the descendants of Chittim, as Asshur is put for the descendants of Asshur, i.e. the Assyrians; but what people were the descendants of Chittim, or what country was meant by the coasts of Chittim, is not easy to determine. The critics and commentators are generally divided into two opinions: the one asserting that Macedonia, and the other that Italy was the country here intended; and each opinion is recommended and authorised by some of the first and greatest names in learning. But there is no reason why we may not adopt both opinions, and especially as it is very well known that colonies came from Greece to Italy; and as Josephus observes, Antiq. lib. 1: cap. 6 p. 17 that all islands, and most maritime places, are called Chethim by the Hebrews, and as manifest traces of the name are to be found in both countries, the ancient name of Macedonia having been Macettia, and the Latins having before been called Cetii. What appears most probable is, that the sons of Chittim settled first in Asia Minor, where were a people called Cetei, and a river called Cerium, according to Homer and Strabo. From Asia they might pass over into the island of Cyprus, which, Josephus says, was possessed by Chethim, and called Chethima; and where was also the city Citium, famous for its being the birth-place of Zeno, the founder of the sect of the Stoics, who was therefore called Cittiean; and from thence they might send forth colonies into Greece and Italy. It plainly appears, that wherever the land of Chittim, or the isles of Chittim, are mentioned in Scripture, there are evidently meant some countries or islands in the Mediterranean. See Isaiah 1:12.Jeremiah 2:10; Jeremiah 2:10. Ezekiel 27:6. Daniel 11:29-30. See also 1Ma 1:1; 1Ma 8:5. When Balaam, therefore, said that ships should come from the coast of Chittim, he might mean either Greece or Italy, or both: the particular names of those countries being at that time perhaps unknown in the East; and the passage may be better understood of both, because it was equally true of both; and Greece and Italy were alike the scourges of Asia."
"And shall afflict Asshur— Asshur, as we noted before, signifies properly the descendants of Asshur, the Assyrians; but their name was of as large extent as their empire; and the Syrians and Assyrians are often confounded together, and mentioned as one and the same people. Now it is so well known, as to require no particular proof, that the Grecians under Alexander subdued all those countries. The Romans afterwards extended their empire into the same regions; and as Dio informs us, Assyria, properly so called, was conquered by Trajan. See Dion. Hist. Rom. lib. 68: p. 783."
"And shall afflict Eber— Two interpretations are proposed of the word Eber, either the posterity of a man so called, or the people who dwelt on the other side of the river Euphrates. If by Eber we understand the posterity of Eber, then Balaam, who was commissioned to bless Israel at first, prophesied evil of them at last, though under another name. We may however avoid this seeming inconsistency, if we follow the other interpretation, and by Eber understand the people who dwelt on the other side of the Euphrates, which sense is given by Onkelos, and approved by several of the most able commentators, both ancient and modern. The two members of the sentence would then better connect together, and the sense of the latter would be somewhat exegetical of the former; and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, i.e. shall afflict the Assyrians, and other neighbouring nations bordering upon the river Euphrates. Beyond the river, is indeed a phrase, which sometimes occurs in Scripture: but where does beyond alone ever bear that signification? I know Gen 10:21 is usually cited to establish this meaning; but that text is as much controverted as this; and the question is the same there as here, whether Eber be the proper name of a man, or only a preposition signifying beyond, and beyond signifying the people beyond the Euphrates: Isaiah's manner of speaking of the same people is, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria; see Isa 7:20 and one would expect the like here; shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict them beyond the river. But which-soever of these interpretations we prefer, the prophecy was alike fulfilled. If we understand it of the people bordering on the Euphrates, they as well as the Assyrians were subdued both by the Greeks and Romans. If of the posterity of Eber, the Hebrews were afflicted, though not so much by Alexander himself, yet by his successors the Seleucidae, and particularly by Antiochus Epiphanes, see 1 Maccabees 1 : They were worse afflicted by the Romans, who not only subdued and oppressed them, but at last took away their place and nation, and sold and dispersed them over the face of the earth."
"He also shall perish for ever— That is, Asshur and Eber, mentioned as one and the same people, or rather Chittim. He also shall be punished even to perdition; shall be destroyed, as well as Amalek; for, in the original, the words are the same concerning both. If Asshur be meant, the Assyrian empire was destroyed, and perished long ago. If Chittim be meant, the Grecian empire was entirely subverted by the Roman, and the Roman in its turn was broke to pieces, some fragments of which are now remaining. See Hyde, Rel. Pers. p. 57."
The Bishop concludes from the foregoing observations, that Balaam was a prophet divinely inspired; or he could never have foretold so many distant events, some of which are fulfilling in the world at this time. "And what a singular honour," says he, "was it to the people of Israel, that a prophet called from another country, and at the same time a wicked man, should be obliged to bear testimony to their righteousness and holiness! The commendations of an enemy, among enemies, are commendations indeed; and Moses did justice to himself, as well as to his country, in recording these transactions. They are not only a material part of his history, but are likewise a strong confirmation of the truth of this religion. Balaam's bearing witness to Moses, is somewhat like Judas attesting the innocence of Jesus." See Dissert. on Prophecies, vol. 1: p. 130, & seq.
Numbers 24:25. And Balaam—returned to his place— i.e. say some, he set forward for Mesopotamia, after having given the prince that detestable counsel, the issue of which we shall see in the next chapter; but being detained in the country of Midian, he perished, as we read in the 31st chapter. Others think that he returned again from Mesopotamia to Midian; but nothing is more uncertain than this inquiry. It will be of more importance to consider, before we leave the subject, first how Moses obtained this remarkable piece of history; and, secondly, why God chose to employ so wicked a Man 1:1. How came Moses to the knowledge of these transactions? "I answer," says Dr. Jortin, "that as there is no such intimation given, so there is no reason to imagine, that he had his knowledge by revelation: he had it then by information, which he might easily obtain concerning an event, in his own time, and in the neighbourhood. Balaam himself must have related to the Moabites, what befel them on his journey; and when the spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he delivered his prophesies concerning the people of Israel and other nations, the Moabites who stood by took down his discourses; or he himself might afterwards commit them to writing, and so they came into the hands of Moses." Jortin's Dissert. 5: But, though this will very well account for the matter; why may we not also conceive, that the same power, which inspired Balaam involuntarily to deliver these prophesies, revealed them also to Moses, whom we must allow to have been inspired for the writing of these sacred books?—But, 2. Why did God employ a man of so infamous a character?—Most probably, because one of a better would not have answered the end proposed; and such a one's blessing Israel, instead of cursing them, might have been looked upon as the effect of his zeal for that favourite nation of providence, and his hatred for those idolatrous notions and rites of the Moabites and Midianites. Whereas a person of Balaam's unbounded ambition and avarice, and addicted also to the reigning sorceries and inchantments of those times, being forced, against his own inclination and interest, to bless those whom Balak would have bribed him at any rate to curse, could not but convince them, as well as all the rest of his behaviour on this occasion did, that he was driven to it by a superior, or rather an irresistible power; as, on the other hand, had he been less than a real prophet, or had he been, as many learned men have supposed him, only a mere conjurer or enchanter, all that he uttered in favour of the Israelitish people might have been imputed either to his want of skill, to a sudden inward fear of bringing some heavy resentment from them upon his head, or to any other cause, rather than to such a divine and irresistible impulse. See Psalmanazar's Essays. It seems less strange, that God should employ such a man as Balaam, than that Balak should trust so little to his own gods at home, as to send so far as Mesopotamia for a prophet. Certainly Balaam's reputation must have run very high, or there must have been some very peculiar reason for that uncommon method of proceeding. Perhaps they imagined, that the gods of their own country were not able to defend them against the God of Israel, having so lately seen what the Israelites had done to the Amorites their neighbours; or they might fancy that Balaam had an interest with all kinds of gods, and might engage them all to come in to their assistance. Or rather, I incline to think, says Dr. Waterland, that they knew Balaam to be a prophet of the same God whom the Israelites worshipped, and that, therefore, by his means, they hoped to draw off the God of Israel, whom they were so much afraid of, from assisting the Israelites, and to incline him to favour the Moabites and those who were joined with them.
Our notes on these chapters have been extended to so great a length, that we cannot subjoin, as we proposed, any practical reflections, The reader will find many such either in Bp. Butler's or Dr. Waterland's Sermons on the subject, or in Dr. Jortin's Diss. 5: to which we refer; concluding with Mr. Saurin,—"Happy is the man whose mind is enlightened by God! but more happy the man whose heart God purifies, and whom he inspires with sentiments of piety; without which the most sublime knowledge will only aggravate the miseries of those who have been so enlightened." Incline my heart, O Lord! unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 24". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26